When It Comes to What Consumers Value in Health Care, One Size Does Not Fit All

Feb 5, 2015, 9:00 AM, Posted by Tara Oakman

Illustration showing how data can inform health

My husband and I recently bought our first house in Princeton, N.J. We had looked at several houses, all within a similar price range. But price wasn’t the only factor, and simply having a roof over our heads wasn’t our only goal. We wanted a place that allowed us to walk to town and had a yard for the kids to play in, as well as a garage and storage space. We didn’t care so much about some things that might be important to other people, such as the size of the bedrooms or any particular architectural style. Figuring out what was most important to us, what would be a high-value house for us—the people who would be living in the house—was just part of the process.

Just as people have widely varying preferences when it comes to a home purchase, they also have very different preferences and priorities when it comes to their health care. For example, I might prefer a primary care doctor who has weekend and evening hours, whereas my mom might prefer one who has a reputation for spending more time with patients. At least right now, Mom and I just care about different things.

What does “value” in health care mean to consumers generally—and not just consumers overall, but consumers of many different backgrounds and perspectives? What matters to people when they are choosing their health plan, which doctor to go to, or whether to go to a retail clinic, and what might make for a high-value experience in different health care settings? It’s hard to know, because today value is typically measured more from the perspective of payers and providers.

So that is why, this week, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and AcademyHealth, released a call for proposals to better understand what factors are most important to consumers when they make health care decisions.  

In building a Culture of Health, we realize “value” won’t mean the same thing for everyone, any more than it does when you’re buying a house. But unlike in home buying, we don’t have many tools and supports in place to help people make their own high value decisions. In health care, we don’t have enough information about what people care most about. This is what we want to find out.

Tara Oakman

Tara Oakman, PhD, is a senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focusing on strengthening vulnerable children and families and working to improve the value of national investments in health and health care. Read her full bio